9 signs your project needs a systems engineer

9 signs your project needs a systems engineer

You have a tight budget and looming deadlines. You need to act quickly to solve problems and launch new products and businesses. There’s no time for analysis. So, no need for systems engineering right?

One misconception about systems engineering is that it always requires a lot of time. While it’s true that more complex systems take a longer time to analyze, design, and build, systems thinking and systems engineering techniques can be applied to uncover issues and opportunities very quickly. You also don’t need to be working on extremely complex systems to benefit from the strategies.

Not having a systems engineer could be costing you money. You might need a systems engineer if any of these describe your project:


1. You’re dealing with issues involving technology, design, business, and policy

Sometimes the technical design is the easiest part of the solution. But factor in social dynamics, preferences, and regulation from outside institutions and there’s a lot more to consider. Sometimes these factors are design constraints. However, many “constraints” can be changed if you expand the scope of the system you’re designing and examine how the system could evolve over time.


2. Your outcomes are highly valuable or risky

If you’re working on improving a valuable existing system, failing can be expensive. Your outcomes have the potential to “dent the universe” in a big way (for the better or worse). You need to keep mission-critical functions running and everyone safe as you make changes to the system. Those changes either moderately impact a large number of people or severely impact a smaller group. Because of this sensitivity, experimenting in production can be risky. The good news is that there are ways to balance risk analysis and speed via systems engineering techniques.


3. You’re trying to optimize more than technology

Technology has an amazing history of making our lives better, improving our businesses and our jobs themselves. However, the drive towards automation has also caused changes in the job market, the rise of a technocratic society, and shifting social dynamics. Some product designs have ended up hurting our environment, while others help it. To optimize your design in the larger system, you need to consider the economic, social, and environmental impacts beyond your technical design.


4. You’re working with multiple partners to deliver value

Your piece is just one part of the whole problem or solution. You need to work closely with partners or suppliers to understand the system and deliver outcomes to the final beneficiaries. With so much going on, you need to find ways to optimally divide the work between teams without losing cohesion.


5. Your team members are speaking different languages

Team conversations are heated or unproductive. Business stakeholders don’t know how to talk to the engineers and vice versa. The designers don’t feel like anyone is adequately focused on the customers. Policy people are concerned about compliance. Systems engineers can be the translators between domains.


6. You’re having difficulty prioritizing across multiple dimensions

You have multiple stakeholders and stakeholder groups, inside and outside of your organization. Each stakeholder group operates and measures success differently. If you could translate everything into dollars, that would be one thing. But you’re often stuck trying to compare apples and oranges as you weigh the needs of users, the business, and technical teams. You also need to balance the concerns of today with the needs of the future. Without a clear decision framework, the tension is causing some people to feel marginalized, while the loudest voice tends to win.


7. The interdependencies are difficult to unravel

Everything is so interconnected that you don’t know where to start and how to sequence the work. The ambiguity is causing delays or a default focus on small and quick changes. Systems engineering techniques can help untangle the complexity.


8. The whole is not greater than the sum of its parts

Your teams may be designing and delivering their components successfully. However, you’re plagued with integration issues once you try to connect everything together. Maybe your interfaces aren’t lining up. Or your system isn’t performing as well in the “ilities” like the quality, reliability, safety, and flexibility as you had hoped. Or maybe you purchased some products that work fine by themselves, but when you try to combine them they don’t create the desired end-to-end experience without further customization.


9. You’re not making progress towards key global goals

You may be hitting some local success targets on a team or project level, but the general organization isn’t improving. Some metrics are improving at the expense of others. A systems engineering approach can help you move closer to the global optimum.


Any of this sound familiar? If you’re interested in systems engineering support for your project, go here to learn more about working with Recharted Territory.

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